MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
With the starting gun of this year’s Marine Corps Marathon near the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., at least one of the 17,000 runners will be running for someone other than himself.
Commander Jay Erickson, a Navy Family Physician stationed at Robert E. Bush Naval
Hospital here, will commence 315 miles of marathon runs in memory of those from the Combat Center who have died during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A veteran of 15 marathons throughout the past 15 years, Erickson realized that it was time to use his running for something other than personal fitness.
“While there are many programs designed to raise money for excellent charities including the Team in Training programs and others, my exposure to the surviving family members of Marines who have died during OIF led me to begin this journey,” said Erickson. “As I read the lists of names in the paper and met the wives and children of those who have fallen, my main concern was that none of us forget these men and women. Too often they become statistics of war, and we forget that they were parents, brothers, sisters and friends. The impact of their loss will be felt forever, and their memories deserve to be maintained by those of us who sleep safely at night knowing they are protecting us.”
During his own 21-year career, Erickson served seven years as a nuclear submarine officer before going to medical school, but even his days underwater were no match for the adversity faced by today’s deployed Marines and Sailors. So now, he will run one marathon per month for the next 12 months, a total of 315 miles, always mindful of the fact that while the races will be long and painful, they will pale in comparison to the months of isolation and danger faced by our forces in Iraq and elsewhere.
“Being exposed to the deploying Marines and Sailors and their families has truly opened my eyes to the stress of the military life. Each of us should take a few moments each day to say thanks and express our gratitude for what these young people are doing for our country; especially as many of those returning home today will likely go back in the months to come,” Erickson said. “But when you actually meet the surviving family members of those who have died for their country, you are forced to really look at the blessings of your own life and not take them for granted.”
In addition to raising awareness, Erickson will attempt to raise funds for the organizations already established to support surviving family members. He hopes to design T-shirts and wristbands that can be worn by both runners and others with profits being directed to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Operation Family Fund, American Legion Legacy Scholarship and the Gold Star Wives to name a few.
His Web site at http://www.milesofmemories.org is under construction, and he hopes to use it to link people with these already established support groups along with additional links for those in need.
“Unfortunately, with Navy medicine being a full-time job and not being a computer whiz, the Web site has taken longer than I had hoped, and I am still looking for someone with Web design skills to assist me with it. Since this is pretty much a solo effort so far, there is no organization to take care of the administrative side of things.”
Anyone going to the Web site will get a brief description of the Miles of Memories campaign and the Internet address of the Operation Iraqi Freedom site the Marine Corps has set up to assist families of Marine casualties. There they will also find links to all of the fundraising groups listed above along with many others.
“My hope would be for everyone who can afford it to donate $1 per mile, or $315 for the 12 marathons, to one or several organizations,” said Erickson. “And that none of us ever forget these fallen heroes.”